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ACLU Files Court Brief Supporting Governor’s Refusal to Transfer Inmate to Face Death Penalty

Posted: February 16, 2012|Category: Criminal Justice

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The Rhode Island ACLU has today filed a “friend of the court” brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston, supporting Governor Lincoln Chafee’s legal efforts to prevent the surrender of murder suspect Jason Wayne Pleau to federal authorities to potentially face the death penalty. The brief was joined by the four other ACLU affiliates – from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Puerto Rico – that are in the appeals court’s jurisdiction.

Last October, a majority of a three-judge panel of the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, under a federal known as the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), Governor Chafee had the legal right to refuse to turn over Pleau, who has already agreed to serve a life sentence without parole under state law, to federal authorities. In December, the full appeals court agreed to rehear the case, leading to today’s filing.

The IAD governs the transfer of inmates among states and with the federal government. The majority opinion in Pleau’s case held in October that “once the government has put the gears of the [IAD] into motion, it is bound by the IAD’s terms, including its express reservation of a right of refusal to the governor of the sending state.” The ACLU brief supports that view, challenging the federal government’s contention that “it may refuse to transfer a prisoner to State custody but that a State may not refuse to transfer a prisoner to Federal custody.” The IAD, claims the brief, “creates a well-functioning, protective system that balances the interests of the prisoner, the prosecutor in the receiving State, and the Governor of the sending State, giving each a voice in the process.” Under the federal government’s interpretation, however, “the Federal government would receive the benefits of the IAD, while evading its obligations and frustrating the ultimate objectives of the scheme.”

Rhode Island was the second state in the Union to abolish the death penalty in 1852, and it has not carried out an execution since that time. In a letter sent to the U.S. Solicitor General three months ago, the RI ACLU denounced as “inappropriately gratuitous” the U.S. Attorney’s effort “to impose on our state a policy that Rhode Island eliminated more than a century and a half ago.” The ACLU further argued that the Department of Justice’s own standards on when to pursue the death penalty “offer no basis for this course of conduct.”

The friend of the court brief was filed by ACLU volunteer attorneys at the law firm of Foley Hoag LLP in Boston. Oral argument in the case is scheduled to be heard on April 4th.

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